It could have been an article about military operations in subterranean complexes. Or maybe Radios That Resist Electronic Attack. Whatever the topic, chances are you’ve read something connected to mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs). Indeed, this communications technology has grown in popularity in recent years, with it now being widely incorporated into military programs and adopted by leading unmanned systems contractors.
But what is a MANET? As its name suggests, a MANET is an on-the-move network that does not require fixed communications infrastructure, like cellular towers, to work. Nor does it require a single (and, therefore, vulnerable) master node to route signals. Instead, a MANET works in a decentralized fashion, with mobile users communicating with—and through—each other in true peer-to-peer fashion. Should a radio drop out of the MANET, it can quickly rejoin without any impact to the network.
The largest company dedicated to MANET technology is Persistent Systems, LLC. And that’s no accident. The company’s core offerings—the MPU5 smart radio, the highly scalable Wave Relay® MANET algorithm, as well as supporting pieces of hardware—deliver a unique capability set that has made Persistent Systems a sought-after partner for both defense industry primes and U.S. government customers.
Radio as tough, all-in-one computer on an IP network
At first glance, the MPU5 looks like any handheld radio. But with its onboard Android™ operating system and native video encoder/decoder, the MPU5 goes beyond audio, seamlessly sharing voice, video, text, sensor inputs, and GPS data with users across the whole IP-based Wave Relay® MANET. The MPU5 can also run third party apps, such as ATAK (Android Team Awareness Kit) and command-and-control software for assorted unmanned vehicles, which can then be driven or flown via an MPU5-compatible Rugged Display and Controller (RDC).
Designed for challenging environments, the MPU5 can operate 20 meters under water for up to 30 minutes, and with its three multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas (and up to 10 watts of power), it can push data farther than competitors—even down urban canyons, around corners, or in tunnels. The MPU5’s modular design allows the user to swap radio frequency (RF) modules (S-band, C-band and L-band) with just the twist of a screwdriver.
Besides the RDC, the MPU5 connects to a Dual Push-to-Talk (PTT) device that gives the user access to 16 different IP-based talk groups, of which the user can use any two at a time. These talk groups might host medevac, headquarters, fire support, or even civilian organizations with completely different radios! That’s because the MPU5 has a Radio-over-IP (RoIP) feature that can take a legacy radio and digitize its audio, so it now exists on the Wave Relay® MANET.
Persistent Systems, government customers, and industry partners
With all that it has to offer, Persistent Systems has made major inroads with the U.S. military, especially the Army and Air Force. The MPU5 has been incorporated into unmanned ground vehicles employed in such Army Programs of Record as the Man Transportable Robot System (MTRS) Increment II, Common Robotic System – Heavy (CRS-H), and Common Robotic System – Individual (CRS-I). It has likewise been employed by the Army National Guard’s Civil Support Teams to safeguard National Special Security Events. And Persistent Systems is participating in the Advanced Battle Management System, the Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar effort to connect computers, sensors, and shooters at machine-speed.
These inroads have encouraged major defense contractors, like FLIR Unmanned Ground Systems, QinetiQ North America, Boeing Insitu, Lockheed Martin, Textron Systems and others, to join the Wave Relay® Ecosystem, an alliance of companies all using the Wave Relay® MANET as the preferred network for their platforms. This resulting interconnection of troops and various unmanned systems and sensors on a common battlefield network greatly increases warfighter capability.
MANET devices: slimming down and bulking up
The success of the MPU5 has spawned other Persistent Systems MANET hardware, such as the Embedded Module and GVR5. About the size of a deck of cards, the Embedded Module can be incorporated within a ground robot or drone too small for an MPU5, allowing the MANET user to operate unmanned platforms, steer their cameras, and watch their video feeds. The module also enables swarming, autonomy, and collaborative behaviors.
As for the GVR5, it looks like two MPU5s put together and has been ruggedized for use in combat vehicles that experience ballistic shock. The GVR5 can simultaneously operate on two different RF bands, allowing the device to automatically flip between bands depending on geography and RF congestion. It can also bridge dismounted MPU5 users with a vehicle’s intercom system and link to LTE and SATCOM, to deliver global connectivity.
So, what’s next for MANET? Greater proliferation of the technology—across the U.S. military, across different platforms, and into the forces of friendly nations.